Commentary and Opinion

MORRIS: May is mix of new fun, good memories

April 19, 2014

MorrisThe month of May is upon us, and that means it’s time to go racing. The 98th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will take place May 25. There’s an extra day of practice built into the schedule. And leading up to the main event, we’ve got the new Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 10.

Not all the action is on the track. Have you seen the new opportunity for “glamping” in the infield on race weekend? These are four-star tent accommodations. If I were a young man again, that might be the way to go. The new offerings at the track this year are too numerous to list here.

The folks at the Speedway are also paying tribute to the past by asking fans to share their favorite IMS memories. You can find the best fan stories on the IMS website. It’s a walk down memory lane for those of us who’ve been around awhile.

I hadn’t considered my memories of the track since I wrote about the Speedway in this space three years ago on the occasion of the track’s 100th anniversary. IBJ columnist Bill Benner had been identifying his list of the top 33 drivers of all time and the greatest moments in 500 history. IBJ sports reporter Anthony Schoettle was reporting that the IMS was enjoying the best year of ticket sales for the Indy 500 in at least five years.

All the reminiscing caused me to take notice again of what was happening on West 16th Street. And since that time, a lot has been done to keep the momentum going. The excitement is back.

When I was growing up here, there was only one place to be in the month of May. It was a true month-long celebration, a time when the city put its day-to-day routines on hold as buildup to the race on Memorial Day weekend. Today, it feels like we’re trying to work our way back in that direction, and that feels good.

In my 2011 column, I recalled a time when the track was the place to conduct business. “Back in the day, this town all but shut down, work-wise, during the month of May for race-related activities. Granted, that was back when there were two weeks of practice and two weekends of qualifications. The big scramble in the business community was sorting through the suite and tent-party invitations and deciding where you were going to be on a given day. Everyone was at the track. If you wanted to get any business done in May, that’s where you needed to be.”

In the late 1970s and most of the next decade, I was working at WIBC Radio in advertising sales. WIBC Radio owned the franchise for race coverage. As a commissioned salesperson, the month of May was what you planned for all year. If you didn’t have your clients queued up and ready to sign those non-cancelable race package contracts the moment they were available, you were out of luck. The entire month of May sold out far in advance, and we pushed some of the demand into late April. If you missed that boat, you were eating Spam and Ramen noodles for the next several months.

Then there was all that entertaining at the second-turn suites. It was a hard job, but someone had to do it. You didn’t want to, but sometimes you had to take one for the team (over and over again). I could tell you some suite stories. But, alas, no I can’t. I’m not sure the statute of limitations has expired. Besides, I’m old school. Sometimes it’s appropriate to know that what happens at the track stays at the track.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Congratulations to all at Hulman & Co. and the IMS. I think you all have done an excellent job in bringing back some of the great passion and emotion of years past.

One of the things we’ll celebrate this year will be the tradition of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Jim joined the pre-race festivities in 1972 and has announced that, at age 83, this will be his swan song. We wish him well and hope whoever sings it in the future will create a tradition of their own.

Now it’s time to go racing. I look forward to another great month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And to those of you who have suite duty this year, my dance card is fairly open at the moment. I’m just saying. See you at the track.•

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Morris is publisher of IBJ. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to gmorris@ibj.com.

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